Category Archives: financial

Surf’s Up, Wheels Up: Your Guide to Airlines’ Surfboard Fees


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Catching a wave after your flight? If you’re planning to bring your own surfboard to your destination, you could face some hefty checked bag fees that usually can’t be avoided, even with an airline-branded credit card that offers free checked baggage.

Let’s cut to the chase: The best airlines for surfers are American Airlines and Alaska Airlines because they consider surfboards a normal piece of checked luggage. That means you won’t have to pay oversized baggage fees, as long as your board bag isn’t too heavy. Hawaiian Airlines and United Airlines also have cheap rates when you fly between certain destinations. It’s also more cost effective to buddy up and bundle two surfboards together in one case, so you can fly two surfboards for the price of one on the airlines that allow the practice.

» Learn more: 6 ways to save baggage fees

Here are surfboard policies by airline:

  • American Airlines: As of May 21, 2019, travelers will only pay standard checked bag fees for their surfboards that are less than 50 pounds. That’s $30 if the surfboard is your only checked item. If you’re flying with fellow wave riders and can cram two surfboards into one bag, you’ll only pay one checked bag fee to transport both boards.
  • Alaska Airlines: It may be called Alaska Airlines, but this carrier has flights to Hawaii and other West Coast destinations that are known for their great waves. You can take a surfboard or paddleboard case with up to two boards inside for the same price as a normal piece of checked luggage. Alaska charges $30 for the first checked item, which makes flying Alaska one of the most budget-friendly ways to travel with your surfboard. If you have the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card, your free checked bag perk will waive the fee to check your surfboard. The maximum dimensions for the surfboards vary by aircraft, so check on its website before you go.
  • Delta Air Lines: You’ll have to shell out at least $150 to fly with your surfboards on Delta. Other fees may apply as well if your bag is over 70 pounds, and boards are limited to 115 inches in length. If you’re flying between Honolulu and Maui, Delta only charges a $20 fee.
  • Hawaiian Airlines: Hawaiian Airlines charges different rates for surfboards based on where you’re flying. Heading over to a neighboring Hawaiian island? You’ll pay $35 to check your surfboard. Going to or from elsewhere in North America with your surfboard will cost you $100, while other international destinations will cost you $150. There is an exception that makes it free to check your surfboard if you’re flying to Australia and New Zealand and the board counts as one of your two pieces of checked luggage. Regardless, your bag cannot be over 50 pounds, or it will not be accepted.
  • JetBlue: JetBlue allows you to check one surfboard for $100 each way. It cannot weigh more than 100 lbs. Surfboards are not accepted when flying to/from Bermuda, Haiti, Peru, Port of Spain, Santo Domingo and Santiago.
  • Southwest Airlines: Surfboards can fly for $75 each way on Southwest.
  • Spirit Airlines: Spirit Airlines charges $100 to check surfboards, but you can save money by putting two surfboards in one bag. Overweight and oversize charges do not apply to surfboards with Spirit.
  • United Airlines: Travelers with United will pay the normal checked baggage fee of $30 for the first checked item when flying to California, and this fee can be waived by having a United credit card and using it to book your flight. When you’re flying to and from destinations outside of California, surfboards are usually charged as oversized baggage that is $150 or $200 depending on the size.

If you’re planning to fly with your surfboard, it always makes sense to double-check baggage fees before you buy your ticket. It might be worth spending a little extra on airfare to book with an airline that doesn’t charge or charges lower fees for your board.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2019, including those best for:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
5 new ways to maximize your travel booking on Google
NerdWallet’s top travel credit cards
This new website will help you find a cheap flight



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Natural Calm Magnesium Gummies, 240 count for just $25.49 shipped! {This deal just got even BETTER!!}


This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

Looking for a deal on the Natural Calm Gummies that I take every day? Check out this great deal — and it just got even BETTER!

You guys — this deal just got even BETTER because of a new Memorial Day coupon code they just released! Read below for all the details!!

Vitamin Shoppe is running a buy one, get one 50% off sale on select supplements right now! This sale includes my favorite Natural Calm Magnesium Gummies that I take every day!

PLUS, you can use coupon code 15OFFMDW to get an extra 15% off right now!

Many of you have asked me to share if I ever find a deal on these, so I was excited when a follower messaged me on Instagram about this!

Here’s the deal you can grab on them:

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Use coupon code 15OFFMDW at checkout to get an extra 15% off
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Pay $25.49 shipped after sale!

I’ve taken a variety of different magnesium supplements over the years, but these are my very favorite! And this is a really good price (I typically pay $20 per 120-count on Amazon!).

Not only do they taste yummy, but when I take them I can tell a significant difference in my sleep and in my overall feelings of being a little more calm and relaxed.

I take the highest dose (4 gummies) at night. If you’ve never taken magnesium before, I’d recommend starting out with the smallest dose, seeing how that works for you, and then gradually working up to a higher dose.

Sale is valid through tomorrow, May 26, 2019.

Go here to grab this deal on Natural Calm Gummies.



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This Guide Will Help You Find the Cheapest Gym Membership



Despite years of adding “lose some weight” to my list of New Year’s resolutions, I have yet to join a gym.

Not to make excuses (well, let’s be real — everyone who wants to avoid the gym is making excuses), but I’m incredibly indecisive when it comes to spending money on myself.

Except when it comes to food.

But getting in shape requires making a decision and a commitment to putting in the work. And it takes an investment — in time and often in money.

With so many options out there, how do you pick the best gym membership for you?

Our Guide to Finding the Cheapest Gym Membership

Let me start by saying choosing a gym is a very personal decision.

Size might be a significant factor. Location might be also important to you — maybe if you pass the gym along your normal commute, you won’t be going out of your way.

Well, to help make your decision a bit easier, we compiled information from six national workout chains so you can compare availability, costs and features.

Some gyms provide free trials, so be sure to take advantage of those offers before signing up for a membership.

Writer’s note: Individual membership costs are published as listed online as of May 17, 2019, and they are subject to change. Rates may vary based on location and current promotions.

1. Youfit Health Clubs

Where: Youfit Health Clubs has more than 100 locations in 15 states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

How Much: The base membership fee is $10 a month. The premium tier (known as “Lime Card” access) costs $21.99 a month. When you sign up for the base membership, you’ll also pay for first and last month dues. Initiation fees vary depending on the membership package.

What’s Included: Depending on location, these clubs include top-of-the-line equipment, free weights, group fitness sessions, express circuits, personal trainers, tanning beds and childcare. Premium members can also bring a free guest with them for every visit and can visit any YouFit location.

Try It: Get a free guest pass for one-time use.

2. Planet Fitness

Where: Planet Fitness has over 1,800 locations in all 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Canada and the Dominican Republic.

How Much: Monthly dues are $10 for just one location or $19.99 to use any location. Annual fees are $39.99 and the start-up fee is $1. The $10 membership has no commitment.

What’s Included: These gyms include cardio and weight-training equipment, plus fitness training programs for all members. Some locations include massage chairs and tanning services. Many locations are open 24 hours a day.

Try It: Find the location nearest you.

3. Crunch Fitness

Where: Crunch Fitness has more than 300 locations for its regular gyms and 30 locations for its Signature gyms (which include more classes, upgraded amenities and more). Its gyms are located in 30 states, as well as Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and four Canadian provinces.

How Much: A base membership is $9.95 a month, a Peak membership is $21.95 a month and a Peak Results membership is $24.95 a month. Enrollment fees vary from $10 to $49.99 depending on your membership level. The annual fee is $78, prorated at $6.50 a month.

What’s Included: Depending on what type of membership you choose, you can take advantage of multiple perks at this gym, including a training orientation with a fitness expert, group fitness classes, online video workouts, tanning and Hydromassage. The Peak and Peak Results memberships can be used at multiple locations.

Try It: Try a free one-day trial.

4. LA Fitness

Where: LA Fitness has more than 675 locations in 27 states, Washington D.C. and Canada.

How Much: Monthly fees start at $24.99 for single-club access or $29.99 for multiple clubs within the same state. Initiation fees are $89.

What’s Included: Gyms include state-of-the-art equipment and cardio areas, group fitness classes, indoor heated pools, whirlpool spas and saunas. Some have kids’ clubs, juice bars and basketball and racquetball courts.

Try It: Find your local club to request a guest pass online.

5. 24 Hour Fitness

Where: 24 Hour Fitness has over 400 locations in 13 states — California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Texas, Hawaii, Florida, Virginia, Maryland, New York and New Jersey.

How Much: Monthly fees start at $29.99, but can vary based on location and membership level. Members pay a one-time initiation fee, which starts at $29.99, and there’s also a $49.99 annual fee.

What’s Included: Gyms include studio and cycle classes. Most facilities also have an indoor lap pool and a Whirlpool. Members can take advantage of personal and group training. Get access to digital workouts you can complete at home without stepping foot in an actual gym. Parents of children ages 6 months to 11 years can drop their kids off for supervised fun time at nearly every location.

Try It: Use this three-day free pass.

6. Anytime Fitness

Where: Anytime Fitness has more than 4,000 locations in all 50 states and 36 countries across six continents. (That’ll likely soon change, as the chain recently announced plans to expand to Antarctica.)

How Much: Membership starts at $29.99 per month, but prices vary depending on location and current promotions. According to Anytime Fitness’s spokesperson, the average membership is $40 a month. Members also pay one-time initiation and key activation fees, which vary depending on the franchise.

What’s Included: Members have access to cardio machines, weights and strength training equipment, as well as classes and wellness programs. Some locations offer tanning and personal training. They are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Try It: You can get a free seven-day pass.

Other Alternatives to Popular Chain Gyms

If none of these chain gyms suit your fancy, you could always join your local YMCA or set up a home gym to get your workouts in.

You could also incorporate fitness into your daily routine by trying one of these nine inexpensive gym alternatives. Running is one of the options on that list; this post on tips and tricks for finding discounted running shoes can help ease your stride.

Or you could lace up those shoes and march right into the gym!

Nicole Dow is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She sympathizes with the struggle of getting in shape. 



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How to Get Help with Paying Rent


According to a 2018 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, 38% of all American renter households put more than three-tenths of pretax income toward rent in 2015, qualifying as “rent burdened” — up from 19% in 2001.

Some 17% of renter households put more than one-half of pretax income toward rent in 2015, qualifying as “severely rent burdened.”

Households led by African-Americans and seniors of all races were more likely to be rent burdened and severely rent burdened than households led by whites and non-seniors — though a 2018 RentCafe study reported by USA Today found that millennials spent more on rent than older generations.

The bottom line: Millions of Americans struggle to make rent every month.

Perhaps you’re struggling too. Whether your financial straits arise from a layoff that you expect to last just a few weeks or a serious health setback that could persist for much longer, here’s where you can turn for help.

17 Ways to Get Help With Paying Rent

Use these strategies and resources to make rent during periods of financial hardship. Most are not mutually exclusive; for best results, pursue several simultaneously.

1. Try to Negotiate With Your Landlord

Your first resort during temporary financial hardship is to negotiate a modified payment plan with your landlord.

Although your lease requires you to pay the full balance of rent accrued during the contract’s term — $12,000 in total rent on a one-year lease at $1,000 per month, for instance — your landlord may be willing to receive the balance over a longer period or even forgive a portion altogether.

Your landlord isn’t obligated to work with you, of course. They’re more likely to budge if you make the stakes crystal clear: Presently, you’re unable to make full, timely rent payments, and you will need to break your lease and move out unless your circumstances change. Your ask should be clear as well — for example, “I can pay, in full, the six months’ rent remaining on my lease over the next 12 months” is preferable to a sob story that ends with “So I can’t make rent this month.”

The goal here is to reach a binding lease modification agreement without involving lawyers or courts. Ideally, this agreement should result in a written contract that supersedes your lease’s payment clause without invalidating the entire document.

2. Trade Labor or Services for Reduced Rent

Even if your landlord is open to modifying your lease’s payment terms, they’d be within their rights to ask for something in return.

Often, that “something” is physical labor. No matter the property’s size, condition, and amenities, your landlord can likely find ways to put you to work. That might mean cleaning and shoveling the sidewalks or driveways, mowing the lawn, tending the garden, cleaning the common areas, or performing minor repairs or odd jobs, such as painting or finishing, that don’t demand specialized skills.

The more involved the work, the better the terms are likely to be. A friend of mine earned a substantial rent discount by serving as her 20-unit apartment building’s resident cleaning person. The job required several hours of labor per week and knocked perhaps $300 off her already fairly modest monthly rent. An old neighbor of ours earned a comparatively meager discount — $50 per month — to mow our brownstone’s small lawn and remove snow from its sidewalks.

You can also ask for a labor discount right away. “You can lay off your part-time groundskeeper” is a great way to begin negotiations.

3. Take on a Roommate

When it comes to paying rent, two bank accounts are better than one. Dollar for dollar, adding a roommate to your lease is the best way to make rent when money is tight. If you need help finding roommates, check out Roommates.com.

Taking on a roommate is sometimes easier said than done, however. For starters, to create a legally binding relationship between your roommate and your landlord, you’ll need to add them to your current lease or a new lease that you both sign. Any problems that arise in the course of the inevitable pre-lease credit and background checks could jeopardize the arrangement. That’s also the case for romantic partners, by the way; your lease probably has guest restrictions that compel love interests to join the lease before making the leap from perennial overnight guests to official live-in partners.

Other issues may complicate or preclude the addition of a roommate. Your landlord may balk at allowing you to add a new tenant in the first place. Depending on the rules in your jurisdiction, your lease may obligate all tenants to the full rent balance, leaving you on the hook if your roommate decides to skip town. You may not want to share a cramped studio or one-bedroom with someone you don’t know — or allow close living quarters to jeopardize an existing friendship. The list goes on.

If you do choose to take on a roommate, plan ahead for potential roommate-related problems. Then, talk to your landlord and make clear to them that this may be the only way for you to make rent. Finally, after your landlord approves your roommate, draw up a roommate contract — or cohabitation agreement if your romantic partner is moving in — that formalizes your boundaries, rights, and obligations.

4. Take on a Side Hustle

A part-time job or contract-based side gig doesn’t have to monopolize your free time. Working 10 hours per week at $12 per hour puts an extra $120 in your pocket each week before taxes. That’s $520 per month, give or take.

Gig economy side hustles are trickier. Some, such as driving for ride-sharing apps like Lyft, pass substantial overhead costs on to workers. Crunch the numbers before signing up, and look for worker-friendly opportunities. In many Lyft markets, for instance, the app offers new drivers sign-up bonuses worth several hundred dollars.

Are you ready to start making more money? Here are four of our favorite side hustles:

  • Instacart Shopper – Instacart is another great way to make money with your car. Instacart users order their groceries through the app, and Instacart Shoppers take care of the delivery. You’ll get paid weekly, and you can choose when you want to work.
  • DoorDash Driver – Yet another great way to make money on the side is delivering takeout with DoorDash. Don’t have a car? Not a problem. “Dashers” can also deliver using a scooter, bike, or even on foot.
  • Survey Taker – A great way to make a little extra money without leaving your home is to take online surveys through companies like Survey Junkie or InboxDollars. While you’re not going to get rich, you will make a little extra cash that can help with your rent payments.
  • Handy Professional – Do you enjoy completing projects around the house? It could be basic handyman services like putting together furniture or painting a room, or it could be larger tasks like replacing a kitchen sink or an electrical outlet. Handy.com allows you to monetize your skills. Depending on the task, you could earn up to $45 per hour.

5. Start a Crowdfunding Campaign

A personal crowdfunding campaign is not a license to print money. If your campaign is compelling enough to earn the generosity of total strangers, however, it could dramatically ease your housing woes.

Launch your campaign on a reputable crowdfunding platform, such as Kickstarter or GoFundMe. Set a realistic funding target, likely not to exceed the total rent due on your current lease term, bearing in mind that you may not receive anything if you don’t reach your goal. Make a concise, persuasive case, explaining why you’re facing hardship, its stakes — housing insecurity, for starters — and how you’re planning to overcome it.

Don’t start a crowdfunding campaign without first considering its potential tax consequences. Crowdfunding’s relative novelty complicates tax planning; while there’s some support for the argument that crowdfunding donations qualify as non-taxable gifts, the Journal of Accountancy holds that the matter is best described as “It’s complicated.” Your best bet is to present your plan to a certified tax advisor before your campaign launches.

6. Take Out a Personal Loan

Check your credit score, then check rates and terms with reputable personal loan providers like SoFi. Loan terms vary by lender policy and depend on your credit score, assets, and income, but unsecured personal loan limits often range up to $35,000 or $40,000 for well-qualified borrowers — more than you’re likely to need to make rent in the near term.

Bear in mind that a personal loan is only a temporary solution to housing woes. Moreover, any loan adds a new monthly obligation to your budget, typically for three to five years from origination. If existing debt is a significant contributor to your present financial distress, use your loan to address that root cause — for instance, by paying down high-interest credit card balances on which you’re currently paying the bare minimum, rather than putting your loan’s proceeds in the checking account from which you make rent payments.

7. Borrow Money From Friends & Family

Many a struggling renter has turned to financially secure friends and family members for assistance. Before you make the ask, though, consider:

  • How the Obligation Might Affect Your Relationship. You don’t want an unpaid personal debt to derail a relationship that’s endured for years or decades, perhaps through far worse.
  • Expectations for Repayment. If you’re concerned about your ability to repay in the near term, make this clear before accepting a private loan. If the other party is amenable, ask for a grant instead or agree to a longer repayment timeframe.
  • How Much You Really Need. Don’t borrow or accept more than you need to make ends meet until your financial situation improves or you’re able to find long-term housing assistance.

While it might feel awkward to draw up a legally binding contract before a summer barbecue or Thanksgiving dinner, putting all this in writing is the surest way to protect your mutual interests — and your long-term relationship.

8. Apply for Charitable Grants

Secular nonprofits and faith organizations alike offer emergency and longer-term housing assistance grants to needy individuals and families.

If you’re not sure where to turn, use 2-1-1.org to find private or public housing grants in your area. To make a direct appeal for small-dollar donations, use Modest Needs.

No matter where you live, you can almost certainly find local housing support resources without going through a national organization. In Minneapolis, where I live, Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness provides temporary housing support, including cash assistance, to families and individuals in acute need.

Specific faith organizations may offer assistance as well. In major cities, most large congregations have the resources to provide small but meaningful grants or temporary shelter to people struggling to make ends meet. Generally, these grants are reserved for renters at risk of imminent eviction and those already experiencing acute housing insecurity.

9. Cut Your Expenses

If you’re not yet in such dire straits, you may still have time to get your budget under control and avoid underpaying or missing rent altogether. Once you look for them, you’ll find opportunities to cut everyday expenses everywhere, such as:

  • Dining out less, even when meals are relatively affordable, such as a Subway sandwich for lunch
  • Drinking less alcohol or even quitting drinking entirely
  • Wasting less food at home through better meal planning
  • Spending less on groceries by purchasing generics and taking advantage of coupons and sales

More drastic changes, such as getting rid of your car, could prove more consequential, but even small cuts add up. If you want to take saving a step further you can sign up for Trim. They will scan your bank and credit accounts and look for expenses that you can eliminate. They will also negotiate things like your cable and internet bills.

10. Enroll in a Credit Counseling Program

If your credit or income isn’t sufficient to qualify you for a personal loan to pay down existing debt, find a nonprofit credit counseling organization that offers low-cost debt management plans. For a nominal monthly fee of $100 or less in most cases, your credit counseling partner acts as an intermediary between you and your creditors as you work to pay off your debts by a predetermined date, usually two to five years in the future.

Your debt management plan won’t include your housing payments, but it may alleviate some financial strain by reducing your monthly credit card and loan payments, making it easier to cover rent. Once you become — and stay — debt-free, you’ll likely find it easier to make rent as well.

11. Talk to Lenders About Hardship Programs

If the root cause of your inability to make rent is overwhelming credit card or student loan debt, talk to your lenders about hardship programs and temporary forbearance.

Although the details vary by lender, most creditors are willing to work with borrowers facing temporary hardship. Hardship programs work like credit counseling organizations’ debt management plans, except they’re specific to a single lender and don’t involve a middleman. Typical plans offer lower interest rates, longer repayment terms, fixed repayments, fee waivers and reductions, or all of the above.

Enrolling in a hardship program could temporarily hurt your credit score, and the fact of your enrollment will likely be visible to anyone who pulls your credit report. But the long-term benefits of paying down high-interest or budget-busting debt will almost certainly outweigh the near-term impact.

12. Look for One-Time Opportunities to Raise Money

If you expect your hardship to be temporary — you were unexpectedly laid off, for instance, but your job search is progressing well — then a one-time boost may be all you need to keep current on your rent.

One-time opportunities to raise cash abound. Now might be a good time to look for unclaimed money lying around in a state treasury or class action settlement fund, to downsize and offload unnecessary possessions at a garage sale or on eBay, or to look into more personal — and potentially consequential — options such as selling sperm or eggs.

14. Hire a Pro Bono Tenants’ Rights Attorney

Use the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s state-specific Tenant Rights resources page to find tenants’ rights attorneys licensed to practice in your state. If you believe that your landlord is violating the terms of your lease, local housing ordinances (such as rent control), or state or federal renter protections (such as anti-discrimination laws), your tenants’ rights attorney can advocate on your behalf.

To be clear, a tenants’ rights attorney won’t pay your rent on your behalf. Nor can they tailor the law to fit your situation; if your landlord is on the up and up, your legal recourse may be limited. You may want a tenants’ rights attorney on call, however, if and when your financial straits compel you to terminate your lease prematurely.

15. Apply for Rural Rental Housing Assistance

If you live in a qualifying rural area — generally, communities outside Metropolitan Statistical Areas defined by the U.S. Census Bureau — and spend more than 30% of your household’s adjusted monthly income on rent, you may qualify for income-based rural rental housing assistance. For more information about this program, its requirements, and its application process, visit Benefits.gov.

Even if you don’t qualify for federal housing assistance, you may find more affordable rural rentals through the USDA’s rural housing assistance portal.

16. Apply for Short-Term Housing Assistance

Many county and state agencies offer short-term housing assistance for individuals and families experiencing temporary hardship, as do some bigger cities. In Oregon, for instance, Home Forward administers short-term housing assistance on behalf of Multnomah County and its two largest cities, Portland and Gresham. Start by calling your local 2-1-1 hotline, if one exists, or visit your city, county, or state housing authority’s website.

Generally, short-term voucher or subsidy programs provide no more than three consecutive months of support, during which renters expecting longer periods of hardship may apply for long-term housing assistance.

17. Apply for Long-Term Housing Assistance

Long-term housing assistance comes in multiple forms. Two are worth mentioning in particular.

Many localities operate public housing communities, not all of which resemble the sterile, segregated “towers in the park” stereotype. Here in Minneapolis, for instance, the city operates hundreds of “scattered-site” single-family homes and duplexes tucked away in leafy residential neighborhoods.

HUD’s Section 8 low-income housing assistance is another lifeline for thousands of low-income families, though the program has many practical drawbacks: an arduous application process, the possibility of long waiting lists for qualifying housing, and housing discrimination (in many jurisdictions, landlords may legally refuse to rent to Section 8 tenants).

18. Break Your Lease

Breaking an apartment lease is not a decision to make lightly. Unless you’re in an actively unsafe situation — your domestic partner is abusive or your housing is functionally uninhabitable, for instance — you should break your lease only as a last resort after exhausting all other reasonable options to make rent.

That said, if the alternative is ending up on the street, you may feel that you have no choice but to break your lease. Before you do, line up your next place to live, most likely by finding privately owned subsidized housing into which you can seamlessly transition or lining up a friend or family member willing to host you. If you expect your hardship to last, you’ll want to begin the process of applying for longer-term housing assistance too.

Final Word

As a renter, you’re obligated to learn about federal, state, and local housing regulations. You also have the power to exercise the rights provided by those obligations. Landlords, for their part, must abide by the letter of the law; ignorance is rarely a defense.

Even if the financial hardship that’s compelled you to seek rent assistance has nothing to do with your landlord, a clear understanding of your legal rights — and a willingness to act on them — could mitigate the financial and legal ramifications of a broken lease, should it come to that.

Have you used any of these resources to make rent? Are you considering any?



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Some Further Thoughts on the One Bag Challenge


Jeremy writes in:

My group of friends has been kicking around an idea and I wanted to get your take on it. Let’s say you had to live out of a suitcase or a big duffel bag permanently. That’s all the possessions you could own. What would be in that bag and why?

I actually wrote about this a few years ago when I discussed a month-long period where I did this as a 30 day challenge. During that challenge, I aimed to live out of a backpack and a duffel bag. I gave a brief list of some of the items I carried in that bag, but I didn’t get into too much detail; instead, I moved quickly on to the things I learned from doing it, which I boiled down to six lessons:

+ Lesson #1: It is far easier to do this if you have living space of some kind.
+ Lesson #2: At the same time, this approach to life makes a very tiny apartment in a city much more reasonable.
+ Lesson #3: ‘One bag’ becomes more of a challenge with children.
+ Lesson #4: My hobbies would need a lot of re-thinking.
+ Lesson #5: There were some huge advantages, too, like reduction in household chores, easy travel, spontaneity, and reduced expenses.
+ Lesson #6: I would quickly start to put a very high premium on high-quality sturdy stuff that just works as well as stuff that takes up less space.

I would really encourage you to read that first article, as I’m going to try to avoid covering the same material again.

I kept a lot of notes during that thirty day challenge, so I have a list of what I originally kept in the bags when I was trying to do this. However, going back through that list with some further reflection, I would change some items. Here’s how I would pack for that kind of “one bag challenge.”

The Bag Itself

If I were to do this, I would want a sturdy and very well made duffel bag that could last for many years. I actually have a duffel bag that I love that I think would be perfect for this – the Best American Duffel #5. It’s incredibly well constructed, holds 85 liters of stuff, and has smartly designed handles and straps. If I were looking at a less expensive option, I would look for a duffel from an army surplus store.

The first thing I would put in this bag is a smaller backpack or large messenger bag. The reason for that is that there are many times when I want to take a small portion of my possessions elsewhere but not carry around the large duffel. For example, if I’m visiting someone but want to spend the day out and about, I’d want a smaller bag to do so, or if I’m going on a short trip, a backpack makes more sense than a huge duffel. I have used a North Face Surge II for many years for this purpose and it works well; I also have a Goruck GR1, which is an incredibly sturdy but overpriced backpack. I will likely never need to buy another one as long as I live, between the two I already have.

Contents of My Bag

So, what goes in the bag? This is a modification of the list I kept when I was doing my thirty day challenge and in much more detail than the earlier post. It’s worth noting that some of these items are in there because I’m not assuming things about where I’ll be staying. If I can assume that I’m always living in a home or apartment or hostel or something like that, many of these items can go away.

Clothes are the foundation of the bag. Not only do I need enough clothes to survive for a number of days between washings, they also provide the padding needed to protect some of the stuff in the middle of the pack.

Five shirts Two t-shirts, one long-sleeved t-shirt, one dressier short sleeved shirt, and one dressier long-sleeved shirt. I would buy items that are extremely wrinkle resistant and store them by rolling them up to minimize space.

Four trousers/pants One fairly dressy pair of pants, two pairs of jeans, and one pair of nice shorts. This would shift a little depending on the climate, but I typically avoid shorts until it’s at least in the upper 80s and I live in Iowa, so this is appropriate. The dressy pants and shorts must be as wrinkle resistant as possible.

Five pairs of socks Two pairs of athletic socks that I can sweat in, one pair of dressier socks, and two pairs of winter appropriate socks (probably thick merino wool socks). Again, this covers the various uses of socks. During the summer, I wear sandals 95% of the time, so these are mostly for workouts where I’m wearing shoes or cold weather.

Five pairs of underwear This is self-explanatory.

Two pairs of long underwear Again, this is more important in colder climates. This serves as an under-layer beneath my pants on cold days.

A hooded sweatshirt Essential for several months out of the year in northern areas.

A cardigan A dressier alternative to the hoodie.

One reasonably dressy fall jacket This will be worn much of the time in the fall and spring and less intense parts of the winter. I want a sturdy jacket I can wear in a variety of temperatures.

One hardy winter coat This will take up some real space, but isn’t needed in warmer climates. On a -20 F day in Iowa, though, I’ll pull out my arctic Carhartt. Keeping warm is far more important than appearance at those temperatures.

Winter accessories, meaning a stocking hat, gloves, and a scarf.

A summer hat, which is less expensive than sunscreen.

A tie for dressier moments.

A pair of dressy shoes These are worn on nice occasions.

A pair of cross training athletic shoes These can be worn for exercise most of the time. I would beat the snot out of these and replace them when they start to fail.

A pair of sturdy sandals My default when it’s warm.

A pair of heavier winter shoes My default when it’s cold and snowy and icy.

My clothing would take up about half of the bag’s volume. The rest of the items would fit in the other half, largely surrounded by clothes.

A couple of reusable bags This would be useful for organizing and carrying laundry and keeping dirty laundry separate, as well as other carrying purposes.

A couple of plastic plates, bowls, forks, spoons, and cups This enables me to eat with some civility in most situations.

A flashlight so that I can see in the dark. This would be a pretty small one.

A very basic tool set or a multi-tool so that I can open packages, make minor repairs, and so on.

A basic sewing kit to repair minor issues with clothing.

A tightly compressed sleeping bag so that I can sleep anywhere.

A pillow to rest my head on at night.

Two towels and two washcloths for bathing.

A bag of toiletries, including a toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, deodorant, soap, shampoo, conditioner, hairbrush, comb, a razor and blades, and a nail clipper.

A sturdy nylon rope for all kinds of things, but the big thing would be an impromptu clothesline.

A first aid kit including things like bandages, a bottle of aspirin, antibiotic ointment, tweezers, and so on.

A bottle of sunscreen so I don’t burn myself to a crisp.

A super-sturdy umbrella, something I wouldn’t skimp on. I usually use cheap umbrellas that break frequently, but if I lived out of one bag, an umbrella would be vital and I’d want one that was incredibly sturdy.

Insect repellent to keep bugs at bay.

A loud whistle in case of emergencies, to attract help. Believe it or not, I used to carry a whistle around my neck all the time, something that I did for much of my adult life until recently.

A security pouch that would contain a few vital documents, to be worn under my clothes much of the time. This would include things like my passport, my drivers license, my credit card, my bank card, some cash, and so on. This would be protected with the utmost care, rarely leaving contact with my skin.

A TSA-approved luggage lock to secure my stuff when I travel or when I’m not around my bag.

The remaining space would mostly be filled up with things that I personally would find useful and valuable. These would vary a lot depending on the person.

A sturdy laptop I write for a living, so having a laptop to write on would be vital. I’d probably want a tablet, too, preferably an iPad with an Apple Pencil, but that’s not quite essential. I found room for it last time, though.

A Kindle would provide me with more than ample reading material for a very long time, so there’d be no reason to pack books. I’d load the thing up with books just in case I was away from an internet signal for a while.

A smartphone for communication and navigation as needed.

A GPS device in case my smartphone couldn’t navigate because of no signal or no data plan.

Chargers for those devices, including a solar charger so I can charge devices literally anywhere there’s sunlight.

A notebook and some pens because journaling is a major part of my life. Collecting my thoughts on paper is how I stay sane much of the time.

A deck of playing cards and one or two very small footprint games Tabletop games are a big part of my life. It would be the hardest thing, space wise, for me to give up. I would definitely include a deck of cards and a book on my Kindle with the rules to many card games, but I’d likely find room for a few very small games as well. I’d likely include a small magnetic chess and checkers set. The publishers Button Shy Games, Oink Games, and Jordan Draper Games have some wonderful games with tiny footprints, too.

A water bottle and some water purification tablets Obviously, I need something to drink. The purification tablets are needed if I’m not sure of the water source.

Some nonperishable food items I’d have things like granola bars and protein shakes stowed away in there.

A hot plate and a small pot Ideally, I’d want a hot plate with a magnetic stirrer and a bunch of stir bars, but this will do. This would enable me to make soups, pasta, vegetables, and a lot of other things.

These items would almost perfectly fill up the duffel described at the start of this list. I was able to largely live out of a duffel bag with a list of items very similar to this for thirty days (obviously, I didn’t abandon my home to do it, but I did make every effort to stick to the possessions in the bag).

Why Is This Useful?

While this list might be interesting, how exactly is it useful to real-world personal finances? What application does it have to the financial challenges most of us are facing?

First of all, it clearly shows that we don’t need as much stuff as we like to think that we do. I have far more possessions than I could ever possibly fit into a duffel bag, but the truth is that the vast majority of what I need or want to use in a given day could fit in one. Yes, I would miss some of my other possessions, and it would seriously cut into some of my hobbies (like cooking and playing tabletop games), but the advantages are numerous.

The big advantage is, obviously, you spend far less time managing and organizing and moving stuff when you have far less of it. This is the issue with having more stuff: you have to spend more time organizing, you have to spend more time moving, you have to spend more time cleaning, and that adds up to less time actually enjoying the stuff. Living out of a bag basically deletes that problem – you spend very little time cleaning or moving or organizing. Everything’s just in your bag, and when you want to go, you grab your bag and that’s it.

Thus, when you’re investing less time in cleaning and organizing and moving, you’re able to spend more time doing things. If my experiment with living out of a bag taught me anything, it was that such minimal living gave you a lot of free time for hobbies. The time I would have spent cleaning and organizing and such could be spent reading and hiking and so on – things I actually get deep personal value from.

Such minimalism also leads to incredible savings in terms of living space. If you adopt such minimalism with your possessions, it’s far easier to make do with, say, a tiny efficiency apartment or a tiny home. With the contents of the bag listed above, I would easily be able to live in a small single room, which would keep the rent quite low, and still enjoy most of what I have in my life right now. The less stuff you have, the less space you need, and thus the less housing costs you.

If you want to start down this path, start looking at your life through an 80/20 lens. If you spend some time evaluating your stuff, you’ll find that you spend 80% of your time using 20% of your possessions. The other 80% of your possessions scarcely get used… so why keep them around? They almost entirely take up space, and even if you’re in a situation where you would use one of those items, there’s often a substitute available for you.

Try this for a month: whenever you use an item, put it in a place of commonly used items, maybe a table somewhere or something like that. As the weeks pass, notice that you’re frequently going to that table rather than going around your home for items. By the end of the month, most of your time retrieving items will be centered around grabbing stuff from that table. So, why do you have all of that other stuff? Why not just start selling it off and getting rid of it if you’re scarcely using it? It’ll make some pocket money for you, make your home a lot less cluttered, and not take away anything you use regularly.

While most of us are never going to live out of one bag for an extended period of time, experiments like these do demonstrate that we actually don’t use most of our possessions very much and we use some questionable justifications both to keep those possessions and to buy new ones. Those justifications add up to money lost buying those possessions we rarely use, money lost in larger living space to store those possessions we rarely use, and time lost taking care of and moving around those possessions we rarely use.

Take some time and think about what would be in your own “one bag.” Then, when you’ve got a good sense of that, start being extremely critical about your possessions – and particularly any new purchases – that would be outside of that bag. They’re going to cost you money and time and the likelihood is that you won’t use those new items very much – are they really worth the money you’re spending on them and the cost of storing them?

Good luck.



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Why I pay others to do tasks I could do myself


When people talk about saving money, DIY is one of the first things that comes to mind.

Do all of this (and more) and you could save hundreds of dollars a year.

And that’s great. I know lots of folks that enjoy growing a lush garden resulting in delicious produce (that can be canned or frozen) in due season. There are people in my life that find doing laundry calming, and others that will happily take on any domestic project that comes their way. Personally, I enjoy doing the dishes.

While I’m happy spending time on the things that I like, there are certain things that I hate doing — and that I will happily outsource to others.

Am I perfectly capable of cleaning my home and mowing the lawn? Sure. But why should I spend the time doing these things when I can pay someone else to do them? Here are some reasons I spend money to outsource parts of my life.

Why I Outsource Tasks I Could Do Myself

I Can Make More Money

The number-one reasons I outsource tasks I could do myself is that by doing so, I make more money. Wait, what?

When I talk about spending $200 a month on lawn care or $20 an hour on house cleaning services, many people are surprised to find that I make money by outsourcing these mundane chores.

I’m a freelance writer, so any time I free up can be used to write an article, interview a source, or work on edits. Rather than spending two hours cleaning the house, I can pay someone $40 to do it instead — and make $500. That’s a net gain of $460 each week, or about $1,840 per month.

There have been times that I take my laptop with me to get the oil changed. Jiffy Lube takes care of it for $65 and I can do work amounting to about $200 in the time I’m sitting there. That’s a net gain of $135.

In the past, I’ve used services like Blue Apron and HelloFresh to plan my meals and deliver the ingredients. That saves me the time and hassle of meal planning and grocery shopping, and allowed me to focus on other things. However, with my travel schedule, these types of services haven’t been meeting my needs.

Instead, with Instacart now available in my area, I’ve switched to getting someone else to do the shopping, while I use a service like $5 Meal Plan to plan my meals and provide me with an ingredient list.

No matter how I do it, though, the cost of these services is much less than what I can make doing a little extra work. Whether you want more time to work on a side gig, or take action to grow your business, the investment you make in outsourcing can yield dividends later.

I Have More Time with My Son

I’ll be honest. I don’t spend every minute I save by outsourcing on work or business activities. I also use the time I save on things that matter to me.

In the past, my son and I spent a portion of each Saturday cleaning the house. That’s not a super fun way to make memories with your teenager. Now, instead of spending time on chores, we can go to the museum, take a hike, or ride our bikes. It’s possible to spend the whole afternoon playing board games if we want.

J.D.’s note: I once played Exploding Kittens with Miranda. When she saw that I liked the game, she simply gave me her personal copy. Wow. How cool is that?

Miranda and JD playing board games

Plus, now that my son is doing more with his friends and has the independence of a car, being able to spend time when we can is especially important. We can go out to lunch, and he can still have time to go to the movies with his friends later. Sometimes we work on our small herb garden together in the morning, and he plays video games with his friends in the afternoon.

When my son wants to talk, I don’t have to cut him off because errands are weighing on me. Instead, I can focus on my son, knowing that I’ve outsourced tasks like grocery shopping and cleaning to others.

I Have More Time (and Money) for Self-Care

Freeing up time also means I can make more money while having more time for me.

Let’s use my above example of cleaning the house. If I used all the cleaning time to work, that would get me an extra $1,840 per month. However, I don’t use all that time to work. I probably use about half the time to work. That’s still an extra $920 per month — and an extra four hours.

I can do what I like with those four hours. Maybe I get two manicures in that month. That’s two hours gone, and $100. I don’t have to worry about it, though, because I used half the extra time already to make extra money.

Miranda's manicure

Sometimes all I really want to do is just lay in bed for an extra hour and read. Or go to a movie by myself. Or, instead of work in the evening, binge-watch Netflix. Because I outsource mundane tasks that would otherwise fill my time, I can use half that saved time to make more money, and the rest of the time to do more of what I want, whether it’s baking cookies with my son, going out to lunch with a friend, or spending a Wednesday volunteering with a local service organization.

Outsourcing gives me more freedom and flexibility in my hours and in my spending. In fact, I recently discovered that the time I save (and the money I make) by having someone else handle the grocery shopping is just enough to cover personal training sessions each month. So now outsourcing has freed up the chance for me to improve my health.

Investing Extra Time and Money

I see outsourcing as a way to buy more time. And that makes it valuable. After all, time is a nonrenewable resource. That makes time more valuable than money. Purchasing that time allows me to make more choices and make the most of my time. Rather than spending time mowing the lawn or cleaning the house, I can make more money in a fraction of the time.

Take the lawn care, for example. It takes me about two hours a week to mow the lawn, trim the edges, and manage the weeds. That’s about eight hours a month from May through September, or five months. That’s 40 hours. I pay $200 per month, so $1,000 total. If I work half those hours, I can make about $5,000 extra dollars — and still have 20 hours left over to spread across those five months.

Because I outsource, I have extra time and extra money. I can use the extra time to invest in relationships with my loved ones, and to take extra time for myself. Those things pay dividends in goodwill with people I enjoy being with, as well as mental and physical health dividends for me.

The extra money can be invested as well. I might spend some of it on a trip to the spa, or to buy new camping gear, but a lot of it goes into my investment portfolio. Now that money is earning money, without the need for me to do more work for it. Or, I could take some of the money and invest it into my business, growing it so that it offers better returns down the road.

The benefits outsourcing has brought into my life by allowing me to buy more time — and use it in ways that are more profitable — have increased my quality of life, as well as improved my overall financial health.

Outsourcing in My Business

I’ve also found outsourcing helpful in my business. Over time, I’ve gradually outsourced social media posting, scheduling, podcast editing, tax preparation, and other tasks. Some of these tasks are outsourced to people, while others, like scheduling, are outsourced to free or low-cost software tools.

Just the time I save in posting on social media alone provides me with the ability to earn enough money to pay my social media manager and still have time and money left over for investment in other activities.

When outsourcing business tasks, it makes sense to identify your weaknesses. Rather than trying to turn your weaknesses into strengths, outsource your weaknesses and leverage your strengths into better profitably and improved outcomes.

J.D.’s note: This is precisely what’s been going on behind the scenes at Get Rich Slowly for the past six months. My strength is writing. That’s what I like to do, and that’s what I’m good at. The rest of modern blogging isn’t my forté. So, I brought on Tom to take care of marketing and monetization. We’re working with other folks to handle social media, etc. I’m focusing on my strengths and outsourcing the rest. Speaking of Tom, he interviewed Miranda about this very topic on his MapleMoney Show podcast.

How to Start Outsourcing

I didn’t start by outsourcing everything all at once. I couldn’t afford it.

Instead, I chose one thing to outsource — one thing I could afford. At first, it was house cleaning every other week, while my son and I continued doing the weekly cleaning in between. However, after a few months of making extra money with the freed-up time, I was able to expand to the weekly house cleaning service.

Review the time you spend on various tasks. What could you be doing instead? Could you use the time more profitably? If so, consider outsourcing the task and using your newly-freed time to make extra money. Pretty soon, you could discover that the extra money allows you to outsource the next time-consuming and mundane task.

However, if there are things you like doing, even if they take up time, there’s nothing wrong with continuing to do them. Do what makes you happy. And outsource the mundane tasks that hold you back from a better quality of life.

Author: Miranda Marquit

Miranda has been writing about money on the internet for 13 years. Her work has been published by a variety of outlets, including Forbes, Huffington Post, FOX Business, Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money, Marketwatch, NPR, and more. She’s the founder of the Money Tree Investing Podcast. When not writing or podcasting, Miranda enjoys board games, the outdoors, travel, and spending time with her son.



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17 States With an Estate or Inheritance Tax


Photo by maroke / Shutterstock.com

Have you gotten to retirement with a fat nest egg? Congratulations! All those years of toil and saving have paid off.

If you are exceedingly fortunate and plan to pass on a big inheritance to your children or a charity, you still have one big retirement-planning mission remaining: Protecting your wealth from disappearing into the coffers of state and federal governments.

Depending on where you live, achieving that goal can be difficult, or relatively easy. In fact, 33 states charge no estate or inheritance taxes.

But 12 states and the District of Columbia charge estate taxes, and six charge inheritance taxes.

And pity the poor residents of the alleged “Free” State — Maryland levies both types of taxes.

The full list of such states, and the District of Columbia, in each category is as follows:

States that charge estate taxes

  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington

States that charge inheritance taxes

  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania

Estate taxes versus inheritance taxes

Your estate is taxed based on the total value of everything you own at the time of your death. According to Nolo:

“This includes all the obvious assets, like real estate and bank accounts, plus some that aren’t so obvious — for example, the proceeds of a life insurance policy that the deceased person owned.”

By contrast, inheritance taxes depend on who inherits your assets. For example, taxes may not be due if your spouse inherits your assets, but taxes might be due if the assets go to your children or someone more distantly related to you.

If you live in one of the states on the two lists above, don’t panic. Estate taxes typically are assessed only if your assets exceed a certain level, such as $1 million. And some states have much higher thresholds.

As for inheritance taxes, rates typically are modest if you leave your assets to close relatives. For example, Nolo says that in Nebraska, close relatives who inherit $40,000 or less face no taxes, and just 1% is charged on assets over that amount left to those family members.

However, taxes of 13% will be due in Nebraska on amounts above $15,000 left to more distant relatives, and 18% will be due on amounts above $10,000 that you leave to others, such as nonrelatives or organizations.

Avoiding these taxes

The higher exemption levels associated with most state estate and inheritance tax systems are not much solace to people with very large estates who hope to pass down their cash.

So, what can you do if you are in this fortunate circumstance? You could move to a new state or accept your fate, while taking solace in the knowledge that federal tax reform legislation significantly raised the exemption levels for federal estate taxes.

In 2019, your estate will not be subject to federal estate taxes unless your assets exceed $11.4 million — then, the tax will apply only to the amount above $11.4 million.

Creating a trust is another option. Trusts are often used to bypass estate taxes, as Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson details in “Ask Stacy: I’m Afraid to Leave an Inheritance for My Kids — What Should I Do?”

For more tips on protecting your assets from taxes, check out “8 Documents That Are Essential to Planning Your Estate.” And if you’re looking for a good deal on the estate documents you need, head over to the website of Money Talks News partner Rocket Lawyer.

Would you move to avoid estate or inheritance taxes? Sound off in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.



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HELOC: Understanding Home Equity Lines of Credit


At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

A home equity line of credit, or HELOC, is a second mortgage that gives you access to cash based on the value of your home. You can draw from a home equity line of credit and repay all or some of it monthly, somewhat like a credit card.

With a HELOC, you borrow against your equity, which is the home’s value minus the amount you owe on the primary mortgage. This means:

  • You could lose the home to foreclosure if you don’t make the payments because you use the home as collateral.
  • You have to have plenty of equity to get a HELOC. Typically, a HELOC lets you borrow up to 85% of the home’s value minus the amount you owe on the loans.

The best reason to get a home equity line of credit is for something like a major repair or remodeling project that increases the value of your home. A reason not to get a HELOC is the risk of losing your home if you can’t pay back what you borrow.

MORE: Our take on the best HELOC lenders

Do I qualify for a home equity line of credit?

To get a home equity line of credit, you’ll typically need a debt-to-income ratio in the lower 40s or less, a credit score of 620 or higher and home value that’s at least 15% more than you owe.

How a HELOC works

Much like a credit card that allows you to borrow against your spending limit as often as needed, a HELOC gives you the flexibility to borrow against your home equity, repay and repeat.

Say you have a $500,000 home with a balance of $300,000 on your first mortgage and your lender is allowing you to access up to 85% of your home’s equity. You can establish a HELOC with up to a $125,000 limit:

  • $500,000 x 85% = $425,000.
  • $425,000 – $300,000 = $125,000, your maximum line of credit limit.

Most HELOCs have variable interest rates. This means that as baseline interest rates go up or down, the interest rate on your HELOC will adjust, too.

To set your rate, the lender will start with an index rate, like the prime rate or Libor (a benchmark rate used by many banks), then add a markup depending on your credit profile. Variable rates leave you vulnerable to rising interest rates, so be sure to take this into account.

How do you pay back a home equity line of credit?

A HELOC has two phases. First is the draw period, followed by the repayment period.

A HELOC has two phases. First is the draw period, followed by the repayment period.

During the draw period, you can borrow from the credit line by checkbook or card. The minimum payments often are interest-only, but you can pay principal if you wish. The length of the draw period varies; it’s often 10 years.

During the repayment period, you no longer borrow against the credit line. Instead, you pay it back in monthly installments that include principal and interest. With the addition of principal, the monthly payments can rise sharply compared with the draw period. The length of the repayment period varies; it’s often 20 years.

Home equity loan or line of credit?

While a HELOC behaves like a revolving line of credit, letting you tap your home’s value in just the amount you need as you need it, a home equity loan provides a lump-sum withdrawal that’s paid back in installments.

Home equity loans are usually issued with a fixed interest rate. This can save you future payment shocks if interest rates are rising. Work with your lender to decide which option is best for your financing needs.

» MORE: Home equity loan vs. line of credit: pros and cons

Reasons to get a home equity line of credit

A HELOC is often used for home repairs and renovations. A bonus: The interest on your HELOC may be tax-deductible if you use the money to buy, build or substantially improve your home, according to the IRS.

Some use home equity lines of credit to pay for education. Financial advisors generally don’t recommend using a HELOC to pay for vacations and cars because those expenditures don’t build wealth, and may put you at risk of losing the home if you default on the loan.

Reasons to avoid a home equity line of credit

A HELOC introduces the risk of foreclosure if you can’t pay the loan. Consider tapping an emergency fund or taking out a personal loan instead.

Regardless of your goal, avoid a HELOC if:

Your income is unstable. If it’s possible that your income will change for the worse, a HELOC may be a bad idea. If you can’t keep up with your monthly payments, a lender might force you out of your home.

Those upfront costs may not be worth it if you need only a small line of credit.

You can’t afford the upfront costs. A HELOC may require an application fee, title search, appraisal, attorney’s fees and points. These charges can set you back hundreds of dollars.

You aren’t looking to borrow much money. Those upfront costs may not be worth it if you need only a small line of credit. In that case, you may be better off with a low-interest credit card, perhaps with an introductory interest-free period.

You can’t afford an interest rate increase. HELOCs have adjustable rates. The loan paperwork will disclose the lifetime cap, which is the highest-possible rate. Could you afford that? If not, think twice about getting the loan.

You’re using it for basic needs. If you need extra money for day-to-day purchases, and you’re having trouble just making ends meet, a HELOC isn’t worth the risk. Get your finances in shape before taking on additional debts.

Getting the best HELOC rate

This one’s on you: The more you research, the bigger your reward. As you look for the best deal on a home equity line of credit interest rate, get quotes from various lenders.

Get a quote and compare its rates with at least two other lenders.

First, make sure your credit score is in good shape. Then, check your primary bank or mortgage provider; it might offer discounts to existing customers. Get a quote and compare its rates with at least two other lenders. As you shop around, take note of introductory offers, initial rates that will expire at the end of a given term.

Look into the caps on your interest rate, both the lifetime cap, and a periodic cap if it applies. Caps are the maximum limits on interest rate increases. The annual percentage rate on your HELOC is most likely variable; it fluctuates with the market. Make sure you know the maximum rate you could pay — and that you can afford the payments based on it.

» MORE: 9 tips for getting the best HELOC rate

Steps for getting a home equity line of credit

Since a HELOC is a second mortgage, the process of getting one is similar to that of getting a mortgage to buy or refinance a home. You’ll provide some of the same documentation and demonstrate that you’re creditworthy. Here are the steps you’ll follow:

  1. Determine whether you have sufficient equity, using a HELOC calculator.
  2. Once you determine that you have enough equity, shop HELOC lenders.
  3. Gather your documentation before you apply so the process will go smoothly. See this checklist of documents needed for a mortgage preapproval.
  4. Once you have pulled together your documentation and selected a lender, apply for the HELOC.
  5. You’ll receive disclosures. Read them carefully and ask the lender questions. Make sure the HELOC will fit your needs. For example, does it require you to borrow thousands of dollars upfront (often called an initial draw)? Do you have to open a separate bank account to get the best rate on the HELOC?
  6. The underwriting process can take hours to weeks, and may involve getting an appraisal.
  7. The final step is the loan closing when you sign paperwork and the line of credit becomes available.

How a HELOC affects your credit score

Although a HELOC acts a lot like a credit card, giving you ongoing access to your home’s equity, there’s one big difference when it comes to your credit score: Some bureaus treat HELOCs of a certain size like installment loans rather than revolving lines of credit.

This means borrowing 100% of your HELOC limit may not have the same negative effect as maxing out your credit card. Like any line of credit, a new HELOC on your report will likely reduce your credit score temporarily.

» MORE: Get your free credit score report



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25 Ways to Save Money on Groceries


Wishing you could figure out how to save money on groceries? In this post, I share 25 simple ways you can lower your grocery bill — starting today!

Looking for more ways to save money on groceries? Check out my $70 Grocery Trip posts, How I Cut $80 Off Our Grocery Bill, and How We Lowered Our Grocery Bill By 60%.

how to save money on groceries

1. Plan a menu.

Want to save even more? Plan your menu based upon what you already have on hand and what’s on sale at the store.

Need help: Read my post on How to Plan a Menu.

2. Have a budget.

Need a ballpark figure for starting out? I recommend shooting for $20 to $30 per person per week. Then, work on slowly lowering that by 1-3% every month.

Tip: Use a calculator to keep tabs on how much you are spending as you add things to your cart at the store.

3. Use less meat.

View meat more as a condiment then as the main thing for your meal. To further your savings, try adding lentils to ground beef or beans and onions and tomatoes to taco meat.

Need more inspiration? Check out my post on How to Eat Less Meat.

how to save money on groceries

4. Shop the loss leaders.

These are the weekly specials — usually advertised on the front page of your store flyer — that are such great prices your store is taking a loss for you to buy them.

They are banking on the fact that you’ll come in to get these great deals and then buy a lot of others things, too. But hey, no one says you have to load up your cart with a bunch of other over-priced items!

5. Shop at more than one store.

Scout out all of the stores in your area and see which ones routinely have the best prices. Also, pay attention to weekly sales and specials at a few local stores. Plan your shopping trips based upon which store has the best deals that week.

Skeptical as to how this works? Check out my post on How to Shop at More Than One Store.

6. Use cash.

It’s a fact of life: If you only bring cash to the grocery story from your allotted grocery budget, you can’t go over budget! 🙂 Don’t knock this until you’ve tried it. It’s a surefire way to help you stay on track with your budget.

Need help getting started? Read my post on How to Shop With Cash Only.

7. Print or download some coupons.

Before shopping, take a few minutes to check out the Coupon Database for printable coupons or your store’s online coupons (if they offer them) to see if there are any coupons for items you are already planning to buy.

how to save money on groceries
8. Look for markdowns.

If your store offers markdowns, keep on the alert for these when shopping.

When you find a great deal, see if you have enough money in your budget to buy it. Consider swapping out something on your list for this item. (For instance, if you were planning to buy cereal and you find a great deal on boxed oatmeal that is less expensive, buy that instead.)

Need more tips? Check out my post on How to Find Markdowns at Kroger.

9. Eat from the pantry.

Occasionally challenge yourself to see how long you can go without going to the store. It’s amazing how creative you can get — especially if you view it like a fun game!

Want more inspiration? Read my post on How to Eat From the Pantry.

10. Use your freezer.

If you have a deep freeze, make sure you are using it by buying items when they are on their lowest prices and freezing them. Don’t have a deep freeze? Make use of every nook and cranny of what little freezer space you have!

Need tips for using your freezer? Here’s my post on How to Become Best Friends With Your Freezer!

11. Buy ahead.

Most items routinely go on sale every 12 weeks at the grocery store. My goal is to never pay full price for any item. Instead, I try to stock up when it is on the lowest price. I aim to buy enough to tide me over until the next sale.

Find some of my best tips here for practicing the Buy Ahead Principle.

how to save money on groceries

12. Plan your menu based upon what you already have on hand.

The more you buy ahead when items are on sale (see #11), the less you’ll spend on groceries. Plus, the more you’ll be able to plan a menu based upon what you already have on hand.

Before making a grocery list, always look through your refrigerator, freezer, and cupboard to see what you already have. Do you really need to go to the store or can you make do with what you have?

13. Use Swagbucks to buy groceries.

Get into the habit of turning on the Swagbucks videos or doing some things on the Swagbucks site every day. You can do this while you’re relaxing and watching a show at night. Or while you’re waiting for your coffee to brew in the morning.

By making Swagbucks a simple part of your day, you can pretty easily earn up to $25 in Amazon gift cards each month. Use these gift cards toward grocery items that are on sale on Amazon to save more.

14. Have a leftovers night.

Once a week, have a Clean Out the Fridge Night for dinner. Pull out all the odds and ends and serve a leftover Buffet. This can be a fun — and unique — dinner. Plus, it encourages people to use what you already have!

Bonus tip: Having a leftovers night once a week means you don’t have to cook dinner one night each week!

how to save on groceries

15. Don’t be a brand “snob”.

Buy the store brand or off brand whenever possible. (The only exception I make to this rule is when I can get the name brand marked down or on a great sale. If it’s cheaper to buy the name brand, you better believe I’ll buy it!)

Tip: I have more tips here on why you should stop being a brand snob.

16. Drink more water.

Buying fewer soft drinks and other beverages can significantly reduce your grocery bill over the course of a year. Plus, water is just plain better for you!

17. Make your own snacks.

Challenge yourself to find simple homemade snack ideas that are frugal and your family will enjoy. You can find some of our favorite snack items here.

(Bonus tip: I keep a snack stash of items that I find on great deals and just bring out a few things from this stash each week. This way, there are always

18. Sign up for cashback apps.

Download the iBotta, Fetch, and Shopkick apps. See if you can earn kicks from Shopkick when you go to the grocery store. Then, scan your receipt on Fetch after shopping to earn a little cashback. Finally, check to see if you purchased anything that qualifies for cash back from iBotta.

how to save money on groceries

19. Have a meatless meal once a week.

Meatless doesn’t have to mean bland and tasteless! Some of our favorite meatless meals are lasagna casserole (we leave out the ground beef) and pancakes and eggs.

20. Buy whatever produce is on sale or marked down.

We typically only buy produce if it’s on sale or marked down. Yes, it means we usually only have 2-3 different veggies and 2-3 different fruits that week (unless I found lots of different sales/markdowns), but because the sales change each week, we eat lots of different veggies and fruits over the course of a few months.

I aim to pay no more than $0.99 per pound for fruit and can usually always find at least 1-2 fruits that are that inexpensive (well, plus bananas which are always cheaper than $0.99/lb!)

21. Find a blogger covering deals at your local store.

Don’t spend hours looking for deals if there is already a blogger doing all of the legwork for you! Search for your local city/town + “coupon matchups” or “deal blogger”.

If that doesn’t pull anything up, try searching for the towns around you. For those of you who live in a very small town, you might not find anything. However, if you live in a decent-sized town, there’s a good chance you’ll find someone — maybe even multiple bloggers!

If you still can’t find anything, then search your store’s name and “coupon match-ups” or “deal blogger”.

how to save money on groceries

22. Don’t shop on an empty stomach.

This is a very basic tip, but it is one that is often overlooked. If you go into a store when you are really hungry, you’re going to have a lot less willpower and self control. And thus, you’ll likely spend more money and struggle to pass up impulse purchases.

23. Stick to simple meals with inexpensive ingredients.

When you’re planning your menu, think about how much your recipes will cost you to make.

It doesn’t have to be a scientific to-the-penny figure, but just having a good idea that there is a $10 difference between the price of making one meal as opposed to another meal can help you decide whether you can afford to make something or perhaps should save it for a special occasion.

24. Shop at Dollar Tree.

Very few people think of buying grocery items at Dollar Tree. It can be a goldmine of great deals on groceries, though.

Please note: Not every deal at Dollar Tree is a good deal. However, many things — like lemon juice, brown rice, apple cider vinegar, bread, beans, and much more — can be a lot less than what you’d pay at the grocery store.

25. Don’t buy pre-packaged, unless it’s on a great sale!

Look for ways to cut down on pre-packaged purchases. In most cases, these are quite a bit pricier and not as healthful. The only time I will buy pre-packaged is if there’s a great rockbottom price (such as a markdown or a sale paired with a coupon).

What tips for saving on groceries would you add to my list? Tell us in the comments.

For More Ways to Save Money on Groceries:



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FDCPA Updates Could Mean Texts and Emails From Debt Collectors



Tired of debt collectors’ harassing calls? Their newest tactics could involve pestering you through texts and emails — maybe even on Facebook.

If a recently proposed update to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is approved, collectors would be limited to calling you seven times a week per debt, but they could send you unlimited emails and texts.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is seeking to update the law that was passed in 1977.

The FTC enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which was originally passed to provide consumers with legal protection from abusive, unfair or deceptive debt collection practices.

Both consumer advocates and debt collection companies say the law is out of date, particularly since digital communications weren’t an option when the law was created, according to Bruce McClary, vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling in Washington, D.C.

However, based on his early analysis and discussions with others in the industry, McClary actually laughed when asked how the updates would help consumers more than the current law.

“I think a lot of consumer advocates are very concerned that there is less in here for the consumer and more in these rules for the debt collection agencies,” McClary said.

How FDCPA Updates Could Affect Debt Collections

We should start by emphasizing the proposed change was only released on Tuesday, so the experts are still sifting through the text and discussing how it could affect debt collection practices, according to McClary.

“But there are some things that people need to be aware that could actually make it a little bit more difficult for those who owe a debt and are being contacted by debt collectors,” he said.

Here’s how the changes could affect you.

How Many Calls From a Debt Collector Is Considered Harassment?

According to the proposed rule, anything over seven in one week in regards to a specific debt is considered harassment. And once the collector has spoken with the consumer, the collection agency must wait a week before calling the consumer again in regards to the debt.

That may seem reasonable, but many people who are overdue on debts rarely owe on only one account, McClary points out.  

“If you think about it, a person might not just owe one debt — they may have three debts in collections, so that’s 21 attempted contacts per week that would be allowed,” he said. “It’s easy to understand how this might add a little more stress than some of the regulations that are currently in place.”

How Debt Collectors Could Utilize Electronic Communications

The next part in the proposed law opens up options for other communications from debt collectors, including via email and text.

You’d have the option to unsubscribe from future communications via these methods, the proposed law states. It is designed to modernize communication options for consumers more used to using inboxes than mailboxes.

However, one of the protections within the current FDCPA is the right to demand a debt validation letter, which third-party debt collectors are required to send to you upon request.

Pro Tip

A debt validation letter must include how much you owe, who you owe it to and what action you can take. It is one of the main tools to catch mistakes or frauds.

If debt collectors send you an email, they could use it as an opportunity to start collecting payments without clearly explaining information you have the right to know, according to McClary.

“There’s the possibility that they could include DocuSign elements in these emails that allow for people to request validation of debt — or to enter into agreements to repay the debt,” he said.

And unlike phone calls, there’s no mention on a limit for the number of contacts when it comes to electronic communications.

Social Media Options for Debt Collection

The proposed change also left the door open for social media exchanges, which could offer new opportunities for collection agencies to reach consumers where they are.

However, the current law prohibits debt collectors from disclosing any information about the debt — or even the reason for the contact — to anyone other than the person who owes the debt, according to McClary. That discretion becomes more challenging in the world of social media.

“There’s one debt collector that even suggested that if some of the changes… go into effect, they’ll be able to use social media tools like WhatsApp to contact people,” McClary said. “That’s a little more alarming. There are privacy issues when you start talking about social media as a communications tool for debt collectors.”

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

For now, the changes to the FDCPA are only proposals, so you can still rely on mail communication options like debt validation letters and debt verification letters You can also demand that debt collectors stop contacting you at certain times or places (like your work), according to McClary.

He also notes that some states provide consumer protection above and beyond the FDCPA, which you can find out about by heading to your state’s attorney general website.

“These states are already looking at ways to update their own regulations once changes are put in place on a national level,” he said.

And as far as what the future may hold, “it’s really too soon to tell,” McClary said. “Exercise your right to control the conversation as the act is written in its present form.”

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then say hi to her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.



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